plastic island of the Pacific

there is a thing out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that humans have created from our own waste.  nobody knows exactly how big it is, how long it has been there, precisely where it is, or what it will do to us.  aside from all of the questions and concerns that revolve around it, the one thing that we know for certain is that it does exist.

most people refer to it as the ‘great Pacific garbage patch’ but it isn’t exactly a patch.  i sometimes call it the ‘plastic island of the Pacific’, but it isn’t much of an island either.  it’s more of a slough of broken down plastics, other garbage, and chemicals that are floating and moving around in the North Pacific Ocean.  it has a measurable size, density, and location.  although these three properties might hypothetically be measurable, nobody has yet to determine what the exact numbers are.  there is a general consensus that the garbage patch is approximately the size of Texas in terms of area.

i started researching this topic with an intent to create a map of this island.  a map that would draw awareness to the problem and attempt to make the scale of the problem more tangible to everyone.  i want to create a cartographic study that will make people care more about their plastic waste.  if more people become aware of the scale of the problem and gain a better understanding of what is happening, there may be some more action in the future to take care of it.

there is a lot of inaccurate information floating around about the subject and very little specific data about the garbage patch exists.  a lot of factors contribute to this, but the most apparent reason is the remote location in the middle of the Pacific making it difficult to travel to and collect data.  fortunately there are people who have been studying the subject and are beginning to understand the garbage patch little by little.  most notably, captain Charles Moore has been at the forefront of these studies.  he is credited with discovering the Pacific garbage patch.

a lot of the plastic waste comes from obvious sources like human carelessness and neglect.  responsible people also don’t often realize where there trash ends up.  when we put recyclables in our curbside bins, are they always recycled?  according to a USA Today article, research done by an international team has found that one unapparent contributor to the plastic waste problem in our oceans are washing machines: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/greenhouse/post/2011/10/washing-machines-cause-ocean-pollution/1?csp=34news

it is uncertain whether or not we will ever be able to clean up this mess or even reduce the size at all.  few people are doing anything about it.  Greenpeace and others occasionally skims the surface of the water in the Pacific to collect visible garbage, but the real problems lie within the dense chemical slurry that we can’t see.  in the meantime, we can at least make an effort not to let it grow bigger.  we can tackle to problem at its sources and attempt to prevent plastics and other waste from entering rivers, lakes, and ultimately oceans.  groups in California have formed a coalition named Plastic Debris: Rivers to Sea to attempt to tackle this problem. this is their website: http://plasticdebris.org/index.html

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